It takes a lot of courage to form a start-up. Not only do you need a sellable product, but you’ll also need to establish a brand to individualize your market. You spend many late nights perfecting your brand. You even have a gorgeous logo to showcase. Nothing is stopping you from taking the market by storm. Except it doesn’t go according to plan. A week after posting your brand’s logo, you receive a letter from another business, stating that you’re infringing on their logo’s design.
So, your logo is similar to another: now what? While it may be easy to go into full panic mode over this fact, you’re not without options to salvage the situation. There are some simple design loopholes you can utilize to avoid these claims while retaining the identity of your business.
We acknowledge how logo designs have become oversaturated in recent years. This is due to the assortment of free graphic design programs available for most amateurs. Even so, a brand is only as good as its marketability, logo included. If you feel so strongly about retaining your newly induced logo, then let’s find ways to keep it, shall we?
» MORE: Can You Use The Same Logo As Another Company?
What if Your Logo Looks like Someone Else’s?
As stated previously, the global marketplace is littered with similar logos belonging to companies, both new and old. It’s a huge surprise that we don’t spot these similarities more often. Case in point is the Airbnb symbol. Established in 2014, the logo has raised an eyebrow or two for being comparable to a laundry list of different corporations. Yet, the logo has remained the same all these years.
Now, you find yourself facing a similar predicament: are the logo similarities an innocent mistake of designer oversaturation, or is it a byproduct of corporate plagiarism? Either way, some steps can be taken to remedy this misconception.
To emphasize, this means you don’t have to completely scrap your initial logo. In most instances, a small patch-job is enough to silence the complaints. Trashing your logo is often seen as the worst-case scenario.
The untrained eye of your average consumer can jeopardize your logo by putting you in the crossfires of an established brand. In these instances, it’s easy for the start-up to get destroyed by their seniors. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, after all. Yet, we love narratives where the underdog triumphs in the end. With that sentiment in mind, let’s look at some ways to pinpoint potential similarities before a complaint is issued.
» MORE: A Complete Guide to Copyrighting or Trademarking Your Logo
Fact-Checking Your Logo
Plagiarism checkers are a wonderful tool that allows writers to ensure that their works are an unquestionable a product of their talents. Nothing is more demeaning than being accused of stealing the works of another person. This mentality can be applied to any sort of creative work. We know the intensive labor poured over our products, why can’t anyone else realize that?
Fortunately, there are many available methods for fact-checking your logo. This is vital if you want to spot any similarities between your logo and the designs of other companies. To begin, we can use a method known as Reverse Image Search.
As the name implies, a reverse image search is when the user uploads an image for a search engine to retrieve information based on that image. The common one we use in our daily lives is Google. This universal search engine can not only pull up information based on keywords but images as well. By going into the images tab of Google, you’re able to upload images, and Google will retrieve information on the image.
I’ll be remised to state that you should solely use Google to search for logo similarities. As one of the leading search engines, it can easily swamp you with information that’s both relevant and useless. We would only recommend it as a starting point for spotting similarities.
For search engines specifically tailored for corporate images/logos, TinEye is a popular search engine in the community. TinEye has become a staple search engine for companies to identify the illegal use of copyrighted images. While the paid version has plenty of search filters to narrow down the results, sticking with the base version will offer plenty of options to identify any potential similarities.
» MORE: A Guide to Choosing the Best Colors for Your Logo
Persisting Against Resistance: Do You Stand A Chance?
Even using a universal search engine like Google will demonstrate logos similar to your proposed design. This leaves you with this ultimatum: restart the logo from scratch or persist against potential legal action. No one likes an ultimatum, but when it comes to making a profit, the gloves will come off.
Before we make any rash decisions, we have to align our mindset to that of the other corporations. If an established company were to look at our logo, what would they think about it? Would they believe that the similarities will cause confusion and undermine their services? Threats of this nature will not be taken likely. This will always lead to legal action being taken against this infringement.
There are two questions to keep in mind if you decide on the path of persistence:
- Are the two logos associated with the same business? If operating under different domains, a similar logo design would not deliver a devastating blow to another company. Take, for example, the similarities between the logo for SEGA and CNN. Both logos utilize the same font but a different color scheme. This isn’t an issue as both companies are trademarked under different services. Either company cannot infringe on the domain of the other, decreasing the risk of confusion to the consumer.
- If the first question is yes, are the companies operating in the same country? Many believe that the issue of logo similarities is often mitigated if the companies are located in different regions. A motorcycle company based in Italy won’t take legal action against an American company if they share a similar logo, as long as they don’t attempt to sell in their region. This type of lawsuit was demonstrated back in 2007 between Starbucks and Starpreya. Starbucks attempted to shut-down Starpreya’s trademark in Korea. They lost this case as Starbucks was not as well-known in that region.
In these two instances, you may feel a bit hopeful knowing that there may be a fighting chance to retain your logo. While this is true, both involved massive corporations that can go toe to toe with each other. As a start-up, you won’t have the assets and brand loyalty to back up your originality. In any case, it’s best to consult with a legal firm. Even better if you can consult with them before publishing your logo. They will notify you if your logo infringes on another company as well as protect your trademark once it goes public.
Pressing Restart: How to Avoid Repeating This Scenario
Even if you decide to exercise transparency with your logo and associated business practices, you may find yourself scrambling for a redesign. If the current logo has similarities, what’s to say that the redesign won’t face similar issues?
As stated previously, you don’t necessarily have to restart from scratch. A small redesign or how we like to describe it, “damage control” can be sufficient enough.
When it comes to redesigning your work, the best advice that can be shared is to avoid using established images from the internet. If you’re designing the logo yourself or outsourcing to another designer, you must create every component by hand. The internet is filled with templates, fonts, images, etc. You’re not the first person to base their logo on established assets, and you certainly won’t be the last.
We highly recommend using a design template website like Placeit.net because they have one of the largest library of templates. Further, they add new templates daily so you are unlikely to find someone else using your same logo template.
Placeit has also been kind enough to extend a 15% discount to All Free Mockups readers. The coupon link can be found here.
By using a design website with a massive library of templates, you’re able to dig deep and express your creativity like never seen before. Remember, your logo is an expression of your brand. Instead of examining what works for others, focus on what will work for your identity.
You’ll receive the added benefit of owning every aspect of the newly redesigned logo. Once the logo is good enough to publish, you can immediately turn the tide in your favor by trademarking your intellectual property (I.P.). In essence, taking a risk and breaking graphic designing 101 will label your logo as a trendsetter for others to imitate. If it all plays out, you may find imitation to be the greatest form of flattery once you see success.
Either option, restarting or demonstrating persistence with the logo, will require having a lawyer assist you before going public. Not to sound like a broken record, but your brand is an I.P., brought together by creativity and hard work. No one wants to see the fruits of their labor fall under the weight of their ambitions. By having the assistance of a lawyer, you can guarantee that whatever logo design you stick with will be protected by imitators and opposers alike.
» MORE: The Power Of Symmetry: 13 Lessons From Famous Logos
What are the Potential Legal Issues?
Plagiarism will always be seen as a serious offense in our lives. Our earliest experience with plagiarism harkens back to our years of being a student. Our teachers would constantly reprimand any sort of plagiarism in classrooms with the threat of expulsion. This threat continues into our adult lives as any attempt at plagiarism can lead to job loss and endanger your marketability as an employee.
This threat is especially terrifying with any start-up business. The whole agenda is to establish a brand that allows you to stand-out against others in your field. The last thing you want is to lose your assets over the unfair use of another company’s property. Let’s take the time to look at the legal ramifications of infringement and what that could mean for your company’s future.
Trademark Laws and Infringement Penalties
Trademarking an I.P. is a legal method towards protecting a creator’s work; logos, acronyms, slogans, all are considered protected under the federal government. You may have noticed this yourself with brands such as Nike or Coca-Cola having a tiny T.M. symbol next to their label. This mark is proof that the brand name is federally protected. If another brand causes disruption or confusion with its logo, this is a clear violation of the creator’s I.P. This is punishable under what is known as trademark law.
There are some exceptions to these penalties, such as the principle of Fair Use. This principle allows specific loopholes towards the I.P. use of another company. These loopholes include instances where the work is used as a parody or reported in the news. The use should be noted as okay as long as you don’t earn a profit off their work or cause a disruption to their brand.
Do not confuse trademarks with other forms of I.P. protection such as copyrights and patents. Copyright is focused on works based on literacy or the arts, while patents are based on inventions.
Once you reach this stage, filing for a U.S. Trademark is a pretty simplistic process. Here is the basic outline towards filing for a trademark:
- Search for your Trademark Name in Advance: Most would recommend you start with this approach to avoid issues during the application process. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) contains all the necessary features to apply. This includes a search engine to check beforehand if your name infringes on any registered brand.
- Fill out the paperwork through USPTO: The application process is also readily available at their offices. By filling out the essential information and the necessary fees, you should hear back within three months. Any errors in the application process will only prolong the decision.
- Respond to any issues presented by the USPTO attorney: Every application must be reviewed by a USPTO attorney. If they spot any problems, they will send you a letter called “Office Action.” This letter will detail every issue and gives you a chance to resolve them. Failure to respond to these complaints, as we mentioned, will delay the process or cause your application to be nulled.
What are the Legal Consequences?
If you find yourself infringing on another company’s trademark, there will be a cost to pay. Unfortunately, even if your actions were not intentional, ignorance is not a defensible stance to take in court. Many companies will take legal action if any form of their I.P., logos included, are remotely taken without their knowledge.
In these cases, the trademark owner can file a cease and desist order against you. This is not only an attempt to stop your use of their mark but also to collect damages from your use. The amount varies. It’s either based on the profit you gain from the infringement or the loss in profit from the owner of the trademark. We have seen some cases where the lost profit was seen in the $100,000s.
If the defendant refuses to comply, the court has free reign to hold the individual for civil contempt. The infringer would be forced to pay additional fines to the court, even paying the attorney fees towards the plaintiff. Depending on the severity and extent of the infringement, the court may deem necessary to impose prison time on top of all the expenses.
We can both agree: the risk is not worth the reward. Any monetary credit you receive from your work will only sustain you for so long. Either unintentional or by mistake, you have to take the precautionary steps to avoid receiving legal complaints from another company. Once the truth comes out, prepare to start looking for another career. No one wants to work with a business that couldn’t hit the ground running without a cheat.
» MORE: 41 Hidden Messages In Famous Logos
In the age of digital creativity, the barrier of entree for graphic designing has never been easier. Creativity, effects programming, and a bit of patience are all someone needs to create a logo for their company. But it’s this ease of access that has also dampened creative uniqueness in the marketplace. Every animal, shape, color scheme has been used by thousands of other companies. Who’s to blame you if your “unique” logo turns out to be eerily similar to another company.
As we have demonstrated, there are numerous outlooks to either retain your logo or to “tweak” it to avoid any copyright conflicts. Either stance, it’s highly recommended to seek consultation from a legal firm to protect your intellectual property.
We have the utmost faith that your original logo is a product of your creativity. Unfortunately, your creativity can also be emulated by other graphic designers with the same mindset. Creativity is sometimes seen as a dying breed with the oversaturation of designer logos in the marketplace. As long as the logo doesn’t infringe on the business of an already established company, you should be safe.
All we expect from you is to take all the necessary precautions to avoid legal issues from your competitors. Your logo is the lifeblood of your brand. We should look at it and instantly associate it with your product. If your brand is attacked legally, it will only decrease your marketability. With today’s market, that’s a misstep that’s well-worth avoiding at all costs.